Monday, April 12, 2021

Infinity in My Hands


Yes, those are my hands you see in the photos above. It's a good thing I never had hopes of being a hand model because I certainly haven't been kind to them over the years. Scars, swollen knuckles... there are all sorts of dings to be found on my hands. Then, when I was reading a favorite poem, it occurred to me that there was even more to be seen by looking at my hands.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.
 
This is the passage from William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence" that made me start thinking of my hands and inheritance. I really don't have to look at photographs to remember family members. All I have to do is look at my hands.

I remember the look my mother got on her face when she saw me standing with my hands on my hips as a pre-teen. "Your hands are shaped exactly like your father's," she said. "You even hold them on your hips like he did." I've seen photographic proof of what she said. Compared to the size of my palm, I have relatively short fingers. I do have a man's hands, and I know exactly where I got them.
 
Then there's my misshapen ring finger on my left hand. I got that from getting that finger shut and locked in a car door when I was five. I won't go into detail about what ensued other than to say that I'm lucky to still have the entire finger. When my mother was five, she got the thumb of her left hand shut in a bus door, almost completely severing it. Yes. Double ouch. I also have a scar on my left middle finger from putting my hand inside a drinking glass to wash it and having the glass shatter. Mom had a similar scar on the same hand from doing the exact same thing. (I was really glad when we got rid of those glasses!)
 
My swollen knuckles are the same ones my grandmother had as she aged. So far, we both seem to have escaped the rheumatoid arthritis with which her mother was crippled. 
 
Every time I look at the little finger of my right hand, I smile and think of my grandfather. Have you ever watched a scene on television or in a movie in which someone drinks a cup of tea and has his or her little finger extended? For some reason, that was once thought to be the genteel way of drinking tea. Don't ask me why. My grandfather was not rude and crude, but he didn't have a Ph.D in swanky table manners. BUT, he always extended his little finger when drinking his coffee. When I was little, I thought it was funny and often giggled. In fact, I thought he was extending that little pinkie so that I would giggle. But he wasn't. How do I know this? Because the little pinkie on my right hand does the exact same thing. You can see it in the photo. The swollen knuckle emphasizes the quirky digit that I inherited from my grandfather, but the photo does not exaggerate how that finger has a mind of its own.

There are other ways my hands remind me of family members. As my hands manipulate yarn and needles, I am reminded of all the generations of women in my family who have done the exact same thing. When I use calligraphy pens, I think of my great-great grandfather's gorgeous copperplate handwriting.

It's true that we are all the sum of all those generations that have gone before. I'm just lucky to have two nimble reminders at the end of each arm. I imagine that, if you stopped and thought about it, you have something similar, too. 
 
But just think... how many faceless ancestors are to be found in my hands that I'm unaware of? I salute you all.

11 comments:

  1. You know, I've never thought about my hands that way, Cathy, but it's so true. Our hands tell our life stories. They also carry the stories of the rest of our families, and I'd never considered that. Our hands have so much personality and so many stories to tell...

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  2. I, too, got more of my father in the shape of my hands, but fortunately, if there is such a thing, also a muscle memory of my mother's capable hands that loved to make and mend. My own hands have never been beautiful and have been constantly mistreated, but they have held my husband and children's hands, gardened, sewn, embroidered, shaped clay and held hammers, been sometimes graceful in dance and tai chi, and necessary in slow-stitch meditation that calms me down when events are stressful. Yes, I do wonder how many ancestors have been a part of my hands. Thanks for this thoughtful reminder, Cathy.

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    1. You're welcome-- and thank you for sharing some of your thoughts with me.

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  3. Yes it is so interesting how our hands tell the story of our ancestors. I have hands like my mom's. But I also have a crooked pinky finger on my right hand that was exactly like my grandfather's. When our oldest son was born I commented on how his hands looked just like his uncle's and that he had such long fingers. I especially remember this because I was caught on a video saying it. My other son's hands are just like my dad's and my dad's dad. My husband has a blackish blue dot on the palm of his hand that was left after a pencil was jammed into his palm. It has been there for nearly 40 years.

    I enjoyed hearing the legacy of your hands, Cathy. And I enjoyed thinking about my own.

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    1. And I enjoyed reading about yours. Thanks for sharing, Gretchen.

      PS-- those pesky lead pencil marks! I have two-- one on my leg and one on my arm from boys in the sixth grade showing me how much they liked me. Ha!

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  4. What a lovely, evocative post! The spread of my hands is inherited from my father, while the shape of my fingers clearly comes from my mother - it's a good combination :)

    So far, I'm happy to not see any signs of the arthritis that my grandmother had, but I am sorry that the large freckle centered on my right hand has faded with age - my mom says that helped me learn right from left!

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    1. That freckle certainly was helpful. I wouldn't want it to fade either!

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  5. I've never really given much thought to my hands. Your stories are very interesting.

    My mother played classical piano and she had the hands for it, long slender fingers. My hands are shaped somewhat like hers - but, alas, the musical talent and skills do not come automatically with the right hands for it.

    My mother had an amazing ear and she sang as well as played the piano, and my sister inherited that skill. It skipped me.

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    1. My mother's hands were similar to your mother's. One time Mom and I put our hands together, palm to palm, and my fingers stuck up almost an inch further than hers. I was chuffed that my fingers were longer than hers because I always thought Mom had beautiful hands. Then Mom pointed out that my fingers weren't longer than hers, the palm of my hand was bigger. She was right. There went my dream of having long, slender fingers!

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  6. My mother's fingers and hands were perfect for piano playing. She could sight-read any piece and when she was in the mood, we would father around the piano and sing a folk song book we had. And we would go through the whole book.

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